China set for online retail sales boom

17 November 2011

BEIJING: The Chinese online retail market should become the largest in the world by 2015, with room for further growth remaining after this date, the Boston Consulting Group has argued.

According to the consultancy, the country's internet audience housed 457m people in 2010, equivalent to a penetration of 34%. More specifically, 145m web users had engaged in ecommerce.

In 2015, the number of consumers accessing the net is due to hit 703m, still only representing 51% of the domestic population. By this time, 329m buyers will be making purchases via the web.

When solely considering urban shoppers, responsible for 80% of GDP, 23% participated in this pastime in 2010, rising to 44% by the end of the forecast period, providing a lucrative target demographic.

Putting this into context, BCG reported that the US web audience is expected to grow from 170m in 2010 to 199m in 2015. These figures stood at 238m and 277m respectively for ecommerce.

Similarly, in terms of value, the Chinese online retail sector could be worth $315bn by 2015, surpassing the US on this measure. The internet will then deliver 7.4% of retail sales, versus 3.3% today.

Within five years, the average expenditure of shoppers should almost double, reaching around $940, and nearing the comparative total of $1,000 in the US.

A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found just 19% of web users visited official manufacturer sites, falling behind scores in the 40% to 60% range for their Japanese, American and European peers.

More than 40% of the Chinese sample had also either read or posted reviews on the web, well ahead of the international norm.

Overall, 21% of contributors in China described online shopping as a "habit" and 46% said they liked browsing to "find great deals" on products they would not otherwise buy.

An additional 43% engaged in this activity in a bid to discover "trendy new offerings", 42% "loved" ecommerce and 32% saw shopping online as "entertaining".

Taobao accounted for 79% of value sales in the Chinese online retail market last year, and as it blocks the results generated by Baidu, the country's leading search engine, brands must take a nuanced approach, BCG added.

Data sourced from Boston Consulting Group; additional content by Warc staff